Freedom celebration coming later

Published 12:46 am Monday, June 14, 2010

People of African origin were brought to this continent in 1619 to be held in bondage as slaves. This tragic circumstance lasted hundreds of years in this country that was established as the “land of the free.” It was the forced labor of the enslaved that contributed greatly to the economic growth and development of this nation.

By 1861 this nation was torn apart by a Civil War, which had at its roots, States rights to self determination, economic stability and the status of the enslaved. In 1863 President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in an effort to gain control of and preserve of the Union. Thus, Lincoln granted freedom to those who were held in bondage throughout the States of the Confederacy. It took two additional years for Union Troops to reach Galveston, Texas, where Union General Gordon Granger announced to the masses that they had been freed two years earlier.

The date was June 19, 1865, or Juneteenth as it later became known. On this date the formally enslaved had their celebration of freedom. What started as a local community, and then statewide celebration in Texas, has grown to become recognized by our nations African-American communities as the last official day of government sanctioned slavery in these United States.

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For the past 15 years we have formally recognized this day here in the Miss-Lou with remembrances and celebration. However, this year will be different as there will be no formal activities. There has been some who have questioned the validity of such a celebration here in Natchez, as the enslaved within this particular region of our nation were emancipated not on Jan. 1, 1863, as President Lincoln had ordered byway of the proclamation, nor was it on June 19, 1965, as in the case of Galveston, Texas.

The specific date was July 13, 1863, when after the July 4 fall of Vicksburg during the Civil War, Union General Ulysses S. Grant marched into Natchez with 5,000 federal troops.

More than 3,000 of the troops were regiments of the United States Colored Troops who were assigned to protect, defend and preserve the City of Natchez. The fact that this community today has more than 500 structures that date back to the antebellum period, is a direct testament to the energy and efforts put forth by the USCT. Their presence alone made way for the much sought after freedom for the enslaved in this region, and many went on to join the USCT in an effort to secure freedom for all.

It was the USCT who were successful in repelling the advances by Confederate General Wirt Adams attempts to capture Natchez during the Union occupation.

As our nation has plans to commemorate the sesquicentennial (150 years) of the Civil War, there are local efforts to acknowledge the contributions made by the USCT during this period of American history.

Developmental plans are now under way for the third annual “Blacks in Blue” living history program which will be in October of this year. The goals of event planners are to present an opportunity for increased awareness and equal historical interpretation and commemoration here in the Natchez region.

There will be a celebration; it is just being postponed until later in the year.

Darrell White is the director of the NAPAC museum.